South African attorneys said they were worried that the quality of the much debated four-year Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree was below par.
A survey of 500 lawyers revealed that only 31 percent of respondents believed the LLB equipped graduates to make it in the profession.
The study, conducted by finance company PPS, confirmed concerns expressed by leading academics.
As far back as 2007, there have been calls for the reintroduction of a five-year LLB.
The SA Law Deans’ Association had pointed out that four years was too short a time to transform undergraduates into potential legal eagles.
Similarly, the Law Society of SA also expressed concern about the “lack of basic skills” such as research, computer work, literacy and numeracy among law graduates.
Yesterday, Professor Vivienne Lawack-Davids, dean of the law faculty at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and chairwoman of the deans’ association, agreed that there was anecdotal evidence to suggest that the quality of some of the LLB graduates was declining for several reasons.
Speaking in her personal capacity, Lawack-Davids said chief among them was reducing the duration of the five-year postgraduate LLB and the deterioration of the state of high school education.
“The four-year LLB was introduced in 1998 amid political pressure to reduce costs and get more black students through the ‘system’. However, if these were the considerations, the objectives have not come to fruition, in the sense that we are not necessarily producing more black students in a less costly way,” she said.
The consequences of the shorter LLB was the exclusion of modules which helped with generic skills such as reading, writing, comprehension and critical thinking. The state of high school education had also played a part.
“Not having seen how the survey was drafted and whether the sample size is big enough to draw such conclusions, the survey does seem to confirm some of the unease which both the SA Law Deans’ Association and the organised legal profession have expressed before,” Lawack-Davids said.
In response to the survey, the law society’s CEO, Nic Swart, said: “The development of suitably qualified legal practitioners is a prerequisite for promoting access to justice.
“The public has the right to attorneys who can serve them competently. Excellence in education is core to the career development of young lawyers, because, if their training is not on par with that of others, they are placed in uncompetitive positions.”
Swart said the society had been advised that the council on higher education was planning to review the LLB degree.
The PPS survey also found that only 44 percent of attorneys would push their children to follow in their footsteps, and that half of the respondents were confident that the standard of education in the country would improve over the next five years.
In response to this, Lawack-Davids said it would be short-sighted not to encourage prospective students to enrol for law. “In the end, society will be poorer for it. We can all play the ‘blame game’, which is the easiest part. Taking responsibility takes much more courage and commitment.”